- Standard/Flat: The most common type of collar, these are flat strips of fabric that connect usually with a metal or plastic buckle. They come in Nylon or leather and are considered one of the safest types for all breeds, sizes, ages, and training levels. Be aware that some dog breeds with slender necks (like Greyhounds) can slip out more easily than other dogs. Dogs in training or with obedience-on-the-leash difficulties may need more correction than this collar allows. However, remember that collars should never be used solely as correction items, and as the walker you should also be trained in how to use these items correctly so as not to injure your dog.
- Head Halters: This type of collar loops around the dog’s snout and behind the head much like a horse’s halter. With gentle guidance, head halters divert a dog’s attention and keep the dog on track. This collar may work well for dogs with obedience issues. Never yank or tug sharply on this type of collar as it can cause neck and head injuries. The biggest complaint about the head halter is that many dogs do not like wearing it. With practice and patience (and plenty of treats), it can be an option for wayward dogs.
- Martingale: A hybrid between the standard collar and the chain collar, Martingale collars are flat and made of fabric (Nylon or leather) around the dog’s throat, but connect to a leash with a chain that tightens if the dog pulls. This collar is less likely to slip over the dog’s head compared to the standard collar and is considered safer than a choke chain for your dog’s airway and neck. Dogs with slender necks, narrow heads, or who have figured out how to escape from standard collars may benefit from a Martingale.
- Choke Chain or Slip: This is a chain or loop of fabric (usually Nylon or braided plastic) that stays around your dog’s neck when attached to a leash. If the dog pulls, the collar constricts. Like several other types of collars on this list, the walker needs to be properly trained in using a choke chain correctly so as not to strangle or injure the dog. You have to be on the correct side of the dog when using this collar (it should make the shape of a letter P and you need to be on the side of the loop or tail of the P), and the collar should be high on the dog’s neck. The biggest problem with these collars is improper handling by the walker which can cause severe damage to your dog. Many trainers recommend using this type of collar after a puppy is full grown and the dog is properly trained not to pull on a leash.
- Prong/Pinch: This collar is similar to the Martingale, except that the inner part has metal prongs or pinchers that tighten if the leash is pulled taught, causing a pinch to the dog’s neck. This is one of the most controversial of collars, along with the electric shock collar. However, because it works like the Martingale collar instead of the choke chain, it releases easier and is less likely to lock up and strangle the dog. They produce less pressure on the neck and release more quickly, making it a short correction. This collar can work well for dogs with behavioral issues or thick skin around the neck, but it should be monitored carefully or not used on dogs with thick or long fur around the neck. Do not yank, pull, or snap this collar. If a dog pulls, it creates a pinch on its own and does not need your interference. Dogs who are still training and pull frequently (or even constantly) should not have this kind of collar around their necks. It is designed for quick, infrequent corrections that can cause pain and neck damage if used improperly or if the dog continues to pull.
- Electric Shock: These collars are highly controversial, almost never recommended by veterinarians and trainers, and are considered inhumane when used improperly (which occurs frequently with the average dog owner). Many owners believe that leaving this collar on the dog will prevent barking, and the button-to-shock kind will keep a dog from pulling on the leash or misbehaving. It is not a one-step fix. Dogs learn best through positive reinforcement (gaining a reward for proper behavior), but seldom can make the connection between an action and punishment. The dog will continue to bark, not understanding why he gets a shock when he does so, and he will continue to pull if only punished and not shown the proper behavior. This leads to confusion, frustration, stress, and can cause nerve damage from overuse. If you insist on using this type of collar, it should only be left on for short periods of time (no more than an hour) and be carefully monitored in person.
- Vibrating: This collar was developed as an alternative to the shock collar. It vibrates instead of shocks the dog and can usually be initiated by remote control. Like the shock collar, it should not be worn all of the time and should be monitored. As with any type of electronic device, it can malfunction and lead to stress and physical irritation for your dog. Dogs with hearing impairments (such as partial or complete deafness) may benefit from this type of collar when used properly to alert the dog.
- Harness: Many dog owners looked for an alternative to the collar options. The harness is a popular choice and comes in two varieties: the back clip and the front clip. The back clip can be problematic for working dogs who are more likely to pull; however, most other breeds (especially the small ones) benefit greatly from a harness that won’t choke and provides gentle correction around the torso. The front clip works well for many breeds, providing direction for easily distracted dogs. Keep in mind that harnesses work best for dogs that are already trained not to pull, as allows dogs more freedom to do so without much correction, and the harness on working dogs or strong/large dogs enables them to pull like a harness on a sled dog.
Size is one of the most important factors in what kind of collar to purchase. If you adopt a puppy, be prepared to buy several collars before the dog reaches full size. For any dog, check the collar weekly to make sure there is enough room and that the clasps, latches, and rings are intact and not overly worn. Wearing can lead to a break which can be very dangerous. When checking the size, make sure you can fit two fingers comfortably under the collar and can move those fingers easily all the way around your dog’s neck. This helps to make sure the collar is not too tight to be uncomfortable or cause breathing restrictions. Also make sure that your dog cannot easily slip out of the collar before using it on a walk. Let your dog get used to the collar and monitor him or her closely, even walking on a leash around the house to make sure your dog cannot break free.
All collars should be worn with pet-parent supervision. This helps to make sure that the dog doesn’t get stuck an accidentally strangle him or herself. If your dog must wear the collar when unsupervised, the only type of collar ever recommended for this is the standard collar if it fits properly and does not have any attachments that can get caught. For night walking, opt for a collar or leash with reflective wrapping or material. This will make you visible to cars and can aid in avoiding dangerous situations. When walking your dog, make sure the ID tag is attached securely and is legible. Dog tags can wear and get scratched or rusted over time, making them impossible to read if necessary. Make sure the information on the ID is up-to-date and clear. ID tags are used if your dog gets loose and is picked up by someone, including animal control, and can make sure your dog is returned home safely.